Yesterday (11/11/14) was Veterans Day here in the United States. Over the years, I have participated in this commemoration in various manners. I have gone to parades (few though they may be), I have attended solemn assemblies. Four years ago, I spent part of Veterans Day at the Emergency Room of the local hospital, having broken my ankle. Last year I was in the hospital again, with minor complications from the emergency surgery I’d had a month before.
Yesterday, I did something entirely different. I took advantage of the free meals that some restaurants offer for veterans. I had never done this before, but my wife thought that it would be a good idea, so we went out to lunch. Then we went out to dinner.
I had been to Olive Garden restaurants before, though it is a chain and not necessarily a favorite. For the most part, I went there because it’s what the grandkids often choose when we’ve wanted to take them out to lunch (especially on their birthdays). Yesterday’s lunch was special.
We were greeted by a friendly hostess who asked if one of us was a veteran. We then waited a mere five minutes before being seated. When we got to our nice, corner, table I was handed a specially printed Veterans menu. That impressed me. I can’t imagine what it cost this national chain to print what I would guess to be millions of these multi-color menus on card stock. Not only that, but there were seven menu items from which to choose – all FREE.
I chose the chicken parmigiana. I expected a smaller, lunch-sized version of the dish. What I got was two large pieces of chicken parm, with spaghetti and sauce.
The whole experience was nice. All around the room were veterans and their families. Some of them were with their grandchildren, others with people I supposed to be their spouses. Some were my age, a few were younger. All were treated with respect. We could hear servers saying to vets, “Thank you for your service,” and “It will be my honor to serve you today.” And the servers were all smiling.
So, we went home happy. Then we decided we would repeat the experience in the evening. This time we chose Applebee’s, another chain with a local restaurant. Again, we were greeted warmly, had a short wait, and were seated by the hostess. Once again, we had a server named Jessica (as we also had at the Olive Garden). She thanked me for my service.
Another specially printed menu was produced, this time with six special menu items. I chose a specialty hamburger. It was large. No skimping on portions here. The same atmosphere permeated the dining area. Vets were all around the room. Some were obviously sharing “war stories.” Some were meeting new friends and comrades. Another wonderful experience was had. I asked for a manager and expressed my gratefulness for the entire event. He, in turn, expressed his thankfulness for the opportunity to do something like this – and for my service.
Before we left, I was handed a small business-card sized card which had this sentiment:
Dear American Hero, I am not certain as to how to express my gratitude for all you have done to secure my freedom. Please accept this simple card as a small token of my appreciation.
– A grateful America citizen.
I know that this is good business for the establishments which take part in such events. Both restaurants were much busier than they would ordinarily be on a Tuesday. Lots of drinks and desserts were served, which were not free. I’m sure there is even a tax write-off for such items as the printing of special menus. Good.
The people working at these two restaurants were pleasant and expressed their gratitude to us. The meals were very nice. The atmosphere was wonderful. As I expressed to the manager at Applebee’s, I certainly do not expect such things. I don’t believe they are owed to me. I did my service. I even got paid for it (though, in truth, it was a pittance!). I appreciate the thoughtfulness and planning which goes into such occasions.
Thank you, Olive Garden. Thank you Applebee’s.